Last week one day I followed through on a nagging desire that I’ve had for a year or so. A nagging desire will always remain as such unless it is acted upon. So acting on my nagging desire, one of them anyway, I impulsively moved my drum set, taking them one-by-one, from the stack in the basement where they’ve been stored for at least six years since I last played them. They sat sorely neglected four feet from my hot-water boiler. And beside the oil tank, which added further insult. I bought the set, used about 1978 for $200. It’s a Premier set with a nice natural wood finish, 22″ bass drum, with bass-mounted double tom-toms, 13″ and 14″. Any drummers reading this know what I mean. That’s the head diameter.
Playing the drums is very similar to riding a bike, in that once learned you don’t forget how. A drummer doesn’t lose their “lip” like trumpeter’s do, or embouchure as flautists might from musical inactivity. Once you got rhythm, you got it. At least I do. What a drummer does lose is the familiarity of the set, and the stamina to play actively for long periods of time. I plan to rectify that situation.
God bless the internet! In just five minutes of online research, I discovered that my set is a PD6500 Powerhouse, made in 1975, manufactured in England. Premier Percussion is still in business, serving the marching band, orchestra, and drum set needs of percussionists. That are celebrating their 90th Anniversary this year. http://drumset.premier-percussion.com/
Even when I bought them they were in new condition, but I thought they still needed at least one more coat of varnish over the factory finish to really make them look good, so I used a couple coats of good old fashioned spar varnish on them. That was over thirty years ago. Spar varnish has long been a favored finish for use on boats because of its protective durability. I customized the set by adding a second 16″ x 16″ floor tom-tom, with a mismatched white pearl finish (music doesn’t care), and a couple more cymbals. And two cowbells. After I moved the drums into an adjacent bedroom, leaving intact for the time being, the unwelcome decorative mouse turds on the bass drum head, I opened the hardware case.
I am a baby-boomer, and like my father and mother, I have tendencies to not want to waste anything of value. This characteristic occasionally surfaces even if the actual value of a particular item may be in question. My drum hardware carrying container, was of course, not a nice, heavy-duty affair with reinforced corners like one would see backstage at a ZZ Top or Foreigner Concert, but rather an old funeral director’s – undertaker’s casket stand case. I resurrected it with my father’s blessing from my grandfather’s store of items no longer used, but of course, not discarded, that were situated in the Beck Funeral Home in Liberty, Pennsylvania. My dad, uncle Bill, and uncle Harry operated the business there, even though the Pennsylvania State Funeral Director’s license holder was Harry Beck, my grandfather’s brother-in-law. My grandfather passed in 1946. Uncle Bill died in 1965 and my father Donald R. Bastian, operated the Liberty and Williamsport Funeral Homes until his death in 1977. All the stands and cymbals fit in that case, so it served me well.
I have a musical background, starting with church choirs when I was still a kid. My dad played the mandolin and accordion. Prior to fifth grade, apparently after passing some type of music aptitude test, I was enrolled in drum lessons at school. All during junior and senior high school I was in marching and concert band. In high school we even had a percussion ensemble during my senior year. I was the first kid to ever play the multiple drums in marching band. These are in just about every marching band percussion section nowadays; called timbales, or sometimes tymp-toms. The music budget of the Williamsport High School Band back then didn’t provide for purchase of a set of timbales, so the drum section coach, Bob Morrison, who was a percussion major and also happened to be the band director at one of the three junior high schools in Williamsport, Pennsylvania back then, made a set. He made them from old drums, cutting them in half. The high school colors are red and white, so he used red sparkle pearl to cover them. Chrome hardware. The connecting hardware and the carrying strap was also home-made. Jury-rigged was more like it. An authentic, Americana, Rube Goldberg device would be a more appropriate description.
I was chosen to play these, since I was the one drummer out of six in the drum section who played with the hand strength the drum coach felt necessary to carry the instrument. Not carry the physical weight of the drums, he meant that “I played loud.” Forcefully. With gusto. The other drummers were sort of, wusses, I guess. Not their person, their playing. No disrespect intended, so I got the job. A heavy hand must have been an inherent characteristic to me. In elementary school, I wrote hard too. I still do. I remember breaking the pencil lead occasionally, and always wore it down fast; having to visit the pencil sharpener on the windowsill more than any other kid in my class.
Band camp that first year was a continual effort on my part. Would you believe that I still remember verbatim, and can rattle it off like it was just yesterday, my sophomore band initiation speech? That was the easy part. We had to memorize the dumb thing and recite it for all the upperclassmen and get their signatures. My sister’s signature was the last one. She was a senior, and I figured I’d start with her. It would be a matter of course to get her to sign my paper. Nope. She told me I would have to sing my speech to the tune of Yankee Doodle, while balanced on a metal railing, before the entire band, as they were assembled on the marching field. Apparently she had an “in” with the director. All week in my mind, I’m rehearsing the speech, singing it, going over the whole thing in my mind. I put it off like you would put off having a tooth extracted, but on the last evening of band camp I finally yielded and gave my performance. I dare say I was the only freshman band member who got an applause for their initiation speech. And I also still know the definitions of the all words therein that we had to learn: nihilism, obscure, cognominated, subservient, inosculate, insatiable, collusion, preeminent, solicitude, panacea. There, if you have nothing better to do today, get out your dictionary.
Besides the forced marching – morning, afternoon, and evening, learning the marching band routines in the August heat and humidity, when college dorm rooms at the time had only open windows for ventilation, the tymp-toms and the Rube Goldberg carrying strap, as Bob called them, were constantly in need of “adjustment.” We eventually got them “well-rigged,” despite the fact duct tape had not yet been invented in 1969, and it ended up being pretty cool though. At footballs games, I was like, carrying my own drum set.
Fly tying? I’m gettin’ there. By the time of my senior year I already had six years of fly tying experience behind me, such as it was.
Presently in the project of my drum set revival, which involves complete cleaning of everything, cleaning and polishing the hardware, stands, cymbals, and drum heads, most of which is done, I am slightly thwarted by the absence of my snare drum and stand. But I’m pretty sure they are in my attic which has a lot of stuff in it, and when I find that I’m setting them up. I’m going to start playing again. And I’ll be able to play whenever I feel like it. Nice! Stress relief, cardio-vascular exercise, and personal relaxation, fulfillment, and enjoyment all rolled into one. I live in the country, so no neighbors will complain. I have one good pair of sticks, and also a pair of brushes and multi-rods. When I started drum lessons, sticks were $.80 cents a pair. I know I’m in for sticker shock when I go to buy a few extra pairs.
I also have some vocal talent. Even though I was only ever in the junior high school choir, I ended up playing the drums in a rock band too, starting in my ninth grade year. My brother Larry played the guitar. That’s when I first heard Jimi Henrix Are you Experienced? Man I loved that music. Larry’s science teacher, Mr. Levering, actually brought the Hendrix album to school and played it in his class. Purple Haze, Fire, Foxy Lady, I was hooked. Then Led Zeppelin’s first album, with Good Times Bad Times. More great music. By the mid-seventies I was an addicted audiophile, with a four-channel Marantz receiver, which I still have and is actually playing right now as a matter of fact. My album collection was eclectic even then; Procol Harum, The Moody Blues, Bloodrock, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, The James Gang, Yes, Chicago, Cactus, Foghat, Leslie West, Aerosmith, Supertramp, Styx, Tull, Black Sabbath, oh yeah, War Pigs, Iron Man, Rat Salad. I love trivia, but I think I’m in a very small collection of folks that can actually name the original five members of Deep Purple and even their now-defunct record label. No fair looking it up people! Anal? Do I actually try to remember this stuff? No. It happens. Through nothing that I devote any effort to.
It’s weird what you remember. Of course I can still remember where I was when I heard the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the shooting of President Reagan, the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle accidents, and of course 9-11. I also remember where I was and even what day of the week it was when I heard on the car radio that Jimi Hendrix was dead.
It was a bit of sad news to read that Jon Lord, the keyboard player of Deep Purple, passed away from pancreatic cancer, less than one month ago. The same affliction took the life of my dear wife, Lou Anne, five years ago.
My band was the first in the area to blast out Smoke on the Water. Our keyboard player even had a Hammond B-3 organ. Already a Deep Purple fan with all four of their previous albums, I bought Machine Head in 1972 upon release, a full year before Smoke on the Water was released as a single. My band was playing that song already, and one night the keyboard player walked in to practice and announced, “Hey guys, I just heard Smoke on the Water on the radio. Again, thank God for the internet. Smoke on the Water was not expected by the band to be a hit, but it reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop list and propelled Deep Purple to prominence, more so than their 1968 hit Hush from their first LP, Shades of Deep Purple.
I happen to love trivia, in particular, human interest trivia. Fly tying trivia. Historical trivia. Chance meeting / situational / destiny / artist / inventor / painter / singer / writer / person-becomes-famous-despite-all-odds-and-critics-who-say-otherwise, or success of the most unlikely and unexpected item, song, book, etc. Here’s the kind of trivia I like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_on_the_Water If you prefer not to take time to read the Wikipedia link then at least read this:
“On the Classic Albums series episode about Machine Head, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple’s lead guitarist) claimed that friends of the band were not a fan of the classic Smoke on the Water riff, because they thought it was too simplistic. Blackmore retaliated by making comparisons to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony’s First Movement, which revolves around a similar four note arrangement—and is arguably the most famous piece of music in the world.”
“During Ian Gillan’s stint with Black Sabbath in 1983, they performed Smoke on the Water as a regular repertoire number on encores during their only tour together. It remains one of the few cover songs that Black Sabbath has ever played live.”
A close personal friend of mine, Jack Tokach from Maryland, has two sons, one named Mark Tokach. Mark’s present position is lead guitarist and musical director for the Charlie Robinson Band. Charlie was married to Emily Robinson, formerly of the Dixie Chicks (she was the blonde). Ha, ha! Gotcha! Need more information? The blonde who also played the dobro. Mark is a very talented, world class guitarist, and at one time played in a band locally known in Maryland, Boneglove, whose Black Sabbath cover set was always a fan favorite. Jack is understandably proud of Mark. Mark was discovered by scouts at a college performance of the musical, Hair. He was signed on the spot for a reunion tour of The Box Tops. His first real gig was at the Indiana State Fair in front of 12,000 people. Mark was also one of two finalists brought for interviews and auditions a number of years ago for Ozzy Osbourne’s band. For those of you who don’t know, “Ozzy” was the lead-singer for Black Sabbath. And the TV show, The Osbournes, remember that? Wasn’t that one of the first-reality shows? And all the bleeps? Anyway, Mark Tokach is very talented on the guitar. A virtuoso.
Fly tying, singing…almost there. I still love classic rock, but I can also be found listening to The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, The Chordettes, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, The Platters, Marty Robbins, even the hokey style of songs like A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation appeals to me. Last week I was listening to a 3-CD set of “Love Songs of the Fifties.” Yeah, more hokey music, but it’s great. I made a CD copy of “The Best Of,” selecting the titles from the three CD’s; one for myself and my friend / fellow fly tier, Truman. One more little trivia bit and I’m done. One of the songs on it is On the Street Where You Live, from My Fair Lady, by Vic Damone. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart and was No. 1 in the UK. Born to Italian-French ancestry in Brooklyn. He took singing lessons as a kid. When his father, who worked as an electrician, was injured, Vic quit school to go to work (how many kids do that these days in our era of ever-burgeoning government entitlement programs that keep people on their butts except to cash their check?). Vic took a job as an usher and elevator operator at The Paramount Theater in New York. One day when Perry Como was at the Paramount, he boarded the elevator, and Vic stopped it between floors and sang for Mr. Como. He then asked his advice if he should continue his voice lessons. Perry said,”Keep singing!” and referred him to a local bandleader. The rest is history; Vic’s rendition of You’re Breaking my Heart was No. 1 in 1949, and he had more than 40 songs charted until 1965.
Perry Como was from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which I also recently discovered is also the hometown of The Four Lads, whose version of Shangri-La reached #11 in 1957. Another great song, great vocals, orchestration, and harmony.
I used to sing lead in a few songs with the rock band I was in. I sang for 27 years in a gospel quartet with my wife, including solo work in our repertoire. It might not seem like my early music tastes and gospel music go together, but as noted previously my musical interests are pretty diverse. I did some theater acting too; as “Sandy” in Brigadoon (yeah I wore a kilt), and “Dolan” in the stage version of “Mr. Roberts.” My vocal range and sound is similar to Vic Damone’s, being a baritone, closer to his voice than to Frank Sinatra. I recently wrote on a blog post that, “tying a Carrie Stevens fly pattern is sort of the musician’s version of doing a Frank Sinatra song in a karaoke bar. Hey, I’m just sayin’. I don’t want to compare my talent to someone who can’t sing. If I were to sing, and had the chance, I think I could present a decent rendition of “On the Street Where You live.” My voice is closer still to Toby Keith. I could Karaoke I Wanna Talk About Me, or As Good Once as I Once Was. With little effort I could mimic and almost dead-on vocalization of Warren Zevon. Werewolves of London, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, and Accidentally Like a Martyr. A line from that last song fits the situation of my failed second marriage: “Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly for what was already mine.” Warren Zevon’s information on Wikipedia is more fascinating stuff.
I absolutely detest rap, grunge, nu-metal, and any crap that possesses angst-laden, degrading to women, and excessive use of foul language. Back in 1999, on my first day of part-time work as an office furniture installer, I filled in during the summer when one of the regular installers had broken his collarbone playing Frisbee. The company was working on a big job in the football office at Penn State University. We rode to work in a large ten-passenger van, and one of the young part-timers brought with him a cassette of the band Korn. All young kids. I was the older guy. Let me tell you. I’m normally a dignified sort, not overbearing, don’t take advantage of people, and usually a gentleman, except perhaps when in the company of my red-neck friends. (References available, ask around. Just don’t ask my ex-girlfriend where only a negative biased opinion would be forthcoming). But my dear departed wife, Lou Anne, was the receptionist and personal assistant to the CEO at this company. That’s how I got the part-time gig, which dovetailed with my slower, summer fly tying and guiding business. When I walked in and stood at her desk after work that day, she looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong?” I hadn’t spoken a word, but she knew that something was dreadfully wrong. I told her, literally shaking and trembling with emotion as I did so.
On that day I didn’t stand up for myself, since it was my first day on the job and all. I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Some of the lyrics to the noise (definitely not music) on the Korn cassette used the F-bomb. So did Billy Joel. So did James Taylor. Once. I’ll say they did it tactfully, even artistically. Inoffensively. In context. This band of miscreants over-used it. One song must have had it over 100 times, with screaming and vocally-raked utterances that sounded as if the front man had gargled a pack of razor blades. It really sucked.
I can tell you from personal experience that people who say music cannot incite people to commit violence are wrong. I was just about ready to kill someone that day. Or at least I felt that way. After a discussion with the crew chief, I handled it the next day. He told me, “You have age-seniority on the crew. Do what you think is best.” My plan was premeditated.
As we rode to State College again the next day, the same guy got a cassette out of his shirt pocket. I said, “Let me see that for a second.” Another Korn cassette. Not today. Seventy miles an hour on PA. Rt. 220, nearing Jersey Shore, I heaved it right out the open window. Despite the fact that littering is one of my pet peeves. “We’re not listenin’ to that f***** s*** today, boys. Or any other day when I’m around. Is that clear?”
Even with the windows open and the road noise, you could have heard a pin drop. I pulled a $5 bill from my wallet, handed it to the kid, and said, “Here, that was worth five bucks to me. I’ll buy your lunch.” As a temp through an employment agency, he never was called to work there again. I saw to that by speaking to ‘the lady in charge.’ That would be my wife. You never know when you’re going to get to have the last word. Which can be nice, because that can also include having the last laugh.
Besides the drum set revival, I am also going to start singing again. Somewhere, somehow. Maybe I might join the Williamsport Civic Chorus. Now, this is what you’ve been reading and waiting for; the fly tying, singing, music connection:
I had to say all that to say this: One of the first things I’m going to do is learn, since I already know it and have known it for 25 years, but more diligently, to the point of walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time level of complete automatic memory, the song, The Scotsman. My plan is to practice and learn it well enough so that I can “entertain” by singing this song, a ditty about what a Scotsman wears (or doesn’t wear) under his kilt, while simultaneously tying a traditional Scottish soft-hackle fly such as the Waterhen Bloa, Orange Partridge Spider, or March Brown Spider. The song takes about 00:02:25, so I think it can be done, tying one of those patterns with just two or three ingredients in the allotted time, particularly if I set the stage by practicing the song until it becomes rote, and prepping my materials in advance.
I know this is very different from my usual offerings but I hope you found this somewhat interesting – and entertaining – besides what is contained in just the first and last paragraphs. In the meantime I’ll be practicing.